Monthly Archives: January 2012

Not Quite The 99 Per Cent

One of the things I noticed about the Occupy movement was a certain suspicion, on the part of many people with an interest in left-wing politics, and many others without, of the claim of the movement to be the ’99 per cent’. Initially I thought this -the 99 per cent- was a very effective political name for an emerging force, and, given the right context, I still do think this. 

First of all, it reintroduces a sense of class conflict, however incompletely, into people’s thinking. Second, it is a powerful symbolic coup de force: it is a withdrawal of consent to the existing order, which depends on the notion that the political regime in power, while representing the specific interests of an elite few, is simultaneously representing the interests of the vast majority. 

But neither of these things means that ‘the 99 per cent’ conveys a substantial empirical truth, even if there are very many compelling situations where a group of people in contemporary societies, whose number is roughly one per cent -or less- of the population, can be identified as enjoying particular privileges and advantages. 

Furthermore, in other contexts, the idea of the 99 per cent can operate in a way that masks conflicts of interest and divergent attachments and loyalties, and rather than compelling people to look more deeply into the nature of class antagonisms, invites people to set them aside for another day. There is also a tendency -among both the Occupy movement’s detractors and sympathisers- to interpret the 99 per cent as a political party supposed to operate within the existing framework of representative democracy. And beyond this -or perhaps underneath- is the frequent guiding assumption that the views of the most vociferous people gathered at an occupied site -whether the most eloquent or simply the most effusive- are those whose voices count the most when there are plenty of people who are there or thereabouts but say very little, for divergent reasons.

The following translation, of a La Jornada article by Raúl Zibechi, teases out some of the associated complexities for left groups in relation to the new social movements.

Social Left and Political Left

The deepening of the different crises and the emergence of new movements are provoking a debate over the role of the left in the possible and desirable changes. Many seek a profound renewal or unity as a way of finding a path that leads to breaking the hegemony of the financial sector.

In general, the debates centre on the role of the political left, that is, the parties that say they are left wing. Overcoming historical divisions, supposedly sustained by ideological differences, would be a decisive step for going beyond the present situation. Unity among the three big currents, socialists or social democrats, communists and anarchists or radicals, would be an indispensable step so that this sector could be fit to play a decisive role of overcoming the current crisis.

Historical experience, however, says something else. The first thing is that left parties do not unite unless there is a powerful movement from below that imposes a common agenda on them. I mean to say that left parties depend on the state of mind and the readiness of workers to either resist or get used to the system. For ordinary people, ideological debates are of little importance.

The experiences of the Popular Front in Republican Spain, Popular Unity in the Chile of Salvador Allende and the Broad Front in Uruguay indicate that it is the push from different forces below that ends up doing away with sectarianisms and imposing, at minimum, unity of action. It was the power of the worker movement that decided that the anarchists would support the candidates of the Popular Front at the polls, overcoming their opposition to elections.

The second is that this 99 per cent we are supposed to be, against the one per cent that holds the power and wealth, has diverse and, in this phase of capitalism, contradictory, interests. In broad terms, there are two belows, as the Zapatistas say. 

Those from farthest down, or those from the basement -Indians, Afros, immigrants, clandestine and informal workers- make up the most oppressed and exploited sector of the broad world of work. This world is basically made up of women and poor young people, usually dark-skinned, who live in rural areas and urban peripheries. They are those with the most interest in changing the world, because they are the ones who have nothing to lose.

 

The other below is different. In 1929 only one per cent of Americans in the United States had shares in Wall Street firms. In 1965 it was 10 per cent and in 1980, 14 per cent. But in 2010 50 per cent of Americans are share owners. With the privatisation of the retirement system and the creation of pension funds, a whole section of the working class became stapled to capital. General Motors and Chrysler were saved from bankruptcy in 2009 by contributions from funds controlled by unions.

The second biggest mining company in the world, Brazilian company Vale, denounced by environmentalists and the landless, is controlled by Previ, the pension fund of the employees of the Bank of Brazil, which alongside BNDES has a solid majority on the board of directors of the multinational. Brazil’s pension funds have investments that represent nearly 20 per cent of the GDP of the emerging country and control huge firms and economic groups. The funds are the nucleus of capital accumulation and they are managed by unions, firms, and the State.

Those are two fairly distant examples to illustrate the the fact that the social left, or rather the movements, which are supposedly anti-system, have contradictory interests,

The third question is that if we recognise this diversity of interests it is to build strategies for change that are rooted in reality and not in declarations or ideologies. How do you unite manual workers who earn a pittance with white collar employees who feel closer to the boss than their “class brothers or sisters”?

The workers who build the gigantic hydroelectric plant in Belo Monte in Brazil, which will be the third biggest in the world, went on strike in December because they earn 500 dollars a month for 12 hours of work a day and the food they are served is rotten. The union leaders went to the site to convince them to get back to work. The pension funds of the three state enterprises hold 25 per cent of shares in the consortium that is building Belo Monte.

The workers of Petrobras, the Federal Economic Savings Bank and the Bank of Brazil are interested in the success of Belo Monte since their pension funds, largely controlled by union delegates, will distribute more money at the expense of the exploitation of the workers, of nature, and of the indigenous people whom the hydroelectric plant is displacing.

The fourth is that any strategy for changing the system should be based solidly among those who suffer most from this system, those in the basement. To think about the organic unity of those below is to place those who speak and negotiate best at the helm of command, those who have the greatest means to be in the place where decisions are taken, that is, the above of below. They are those who move around best in formal organisations, the ones that have ample and comfortable premises, officials, media outlets and transport.

Those in the basement meet up wherever they can. Often in the street, the most democratic space, like those of Occupy Wall Street, the indignados of Greece and Spain, and the rebels in Cairo. They don’t do so around a programme but around a plan of action. And sure, they are disorganised, they speak over each other and in fits and starts.

The strategies for changing the world should start off, the way I see it, with the creation of spaces so that the different belows, or lefts, get to know each other, so that they find ways of communicating and acting, and so that they establish bonds of trust. This might seem little, but the first step is to understand that we in both sectors, or trajectories, need each other, since the enemy is building up more power than ever.

 

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Recovering National Sovereignty

Below I have translated a piece by Javier Couso originally posted at the site Hablando República. The blog is dedicated to promoting a Third Spanish Republic. The post illustrates well, I think, how words such as ‘sovereignty’, and, indeed, ‘republic’ or ‘democracy’ exist as sites of struggle, where their meaning depends on the correlation of antagonistic forces.

I’ve left a couple of words untranslated. I don’t believe in looking for a crap translation of something which will not adequately convey the original meaning. It would be too..what’s the word.. recherché. The word ‘carcunda‘, is a sort or insult for reactionary conservatism dating back to the early 19th century. ‘Facherio‘ dates from more recent times, as a sort of slang word for fascist-related stuff. And sure while I’m at it I might as well leave patria untranslated too. You all know what patria o muerte means, right?

I don’t necessarily agree with everything set forth in the piece, but it does pose some interesting questions for left forces in Ireland, where the recovery of sovereignty (usually ‘economic’ sovereignty – national sovereignty is something, in the official argot, that we -or rather, ‘we’- ‘pool’ with other countries) presently functions as the justification and the alibi for dismantling social protections, driving enormous upward redistribution of wealth through bank bailouts, maintaining calculatedly high levels of unemployment, privatising public services and selling off state assets, and so on.

That is, the citizens must lose their freedoms so that the nation can recover its sovereignty (and of course, the non-citizens can go hang).

Isn’t part of this down to the fact that the dominant political forces in the Republic of Ireland, which are right-wing, have been able to appropriate and recast the idea of national sovereignty, which, as the writer points out, in most parts of the world are hallmarks of anti-colonial left forces?

The achievement consists, I think, not so much of convincing people of anything in particular, but rather, through sowing confusion, of depriving them of a political vocabulary and basic intellectual tools that previously operated in a context and a tradition of human emancipation and anti-colonial struggle.

Thus, all the things listed previously must be done because it is in the ‘national interest’ to do so and by citing the ‘our sovereignty’ in such instances here in Ireland, what is being called forth is a unifying glue of a history of national liberation and anti-colonial struggle, even when what is intended is the precise opposite: collective capitulation and subjugation to the whim of ‘the markets’.

 

Reappropriating: National Sovereignty
Sovereignty is a word that sounds pretty good. It speaks of independence. It speaks of freedom. It describes clearly the space where one can decide without impositions. Anyone would like to apply it to themselves. Everyone is proud of it and shows it off.
However everything changes, at least in our country, when we add the adjective ‘national’. Sovereignty and national. Here, in this very instant, having arrived at this point, it goes pear shaped. And it sounds bad. It speaks carcunda. It defines the space of facherío. It would go unloved. And everyone flees from it.
It is curious how this perception contrasts with the one held by the left in nearly any other part of the world. The idea of sovereignty and independence is a hallmark of a left which is anti-colonial to the marrow and that which visualises the selling out the patria to the empire by right-wing forces subordinate to the diktat of the dollar.
There are two facts which make this a peculiarity of the cultural and political spectrum of our country. First of all, the very creation of Spain as an amalgam state of historical kingdoms and secondly, the spurious appropriation of the concept of nation and patria on the part of the Francoist dictatorship for forty years.
On the national question, we need to see how the Catholic Kings give shape to the start of a nation, not with the cohesive element of a common language, imposed by blood and fire, but rather through the idea of a Catholic country, confronted with Muslims and heretics, imposed -with blood and fire this time for sure- with the instrument of political repression that was the Holy Inquisition.

Down through the years and with the arrival of the Internationals, the elements that were progressive, workerist, or simply of the left, went about embracing federalism, whether in the form of a federal or confederal Republic, as a way of rethinking this country around a common idea that would respect, with sovereign and freely entered pacts, the plurinational condition of Spain.

It is in this frame where the left of the Second Republic and with it certain nationalist parties, set off on the road for the approval of statutes for autonomy. A national question, hitherto assumed by a regionalism that mutates towards nationalism, dominated until the beginning of the twentieth century by the most reactionary right-wing forces. It is in this period that the concept of the Republican State tends, by assuming an autonomist condition, towards a federal aspiration, where the majority of nationalist forces wish to articulate themselves in good faith within a republican structure of free association.

Another one of the negative questions is, as we alluded to previously, the kidnapping of the concept of “national” on the part of Francoism, which revitalises a Spanish nationalism of imperial-Catholic aspirations, in opposition to a left that is respectful towards plurinational and radically secular identity.

It is not trivial that the term “Spanish State” was coined by the Franco government when its capital was Burgos or that this Spainist-religious symbiosis should emit terms such as “National Crusade”, “National Declaration”, the “Anti-Spain”..Forty years of darkness passed during which these slogans, in a kind of continuous Hit Parade, went about installing themselves in the dictatorial DNA and by extension, in an identification as synonymous with Spanish national and fascism.

No es baladí, que el termino «Estado Español» sea acuñado por el gobierno de Franco cuando su capital era Burgos o que de esa simbiosis españolista-religiosa, saliesen términos como: «Cruzada Nacional», «Bando Nacional», la «Anti-España», … Fueron cuarenta años de tinieblas donde estos lemas, a modo de Hit Parade continuo, se fueron instalando en el ADN dictatorial y por extensión, en una identificación como sinónimo de nacional español y fascismo.

As I see it, it is time to recover the concept of National Sovereignty as a hallmark of a left that calls itself transformative. There is no way of changing the social and economic system of exploitation unless we recover our sovereignty beforehand, that is, our capacity to decide for ourselves the model of society we want without the imposition of outside agents.

It is true that this sovereignty can not be merely national, but that it must always point at the subject of this sovereignty, that is, whoever applies it, which must necessarily be the people composed of free citizens. It is definitively the eternal aspiration of living without yokes, whether of outsiders, of class, or of finance.
In these times when Ibero-America is setting out the emancipatory path, we must work in the direction of a Constituent Process that can overcome a Transition that glossed over the forms without altering the distribution of power and that can bring us on to the construction of a different model where National and Citizen Sovereignty form the basis for a more just society.
It may be a long journey but we our course should be set in that direction and I declare myself a supporter of building a country that can transcend even the concept of Spain. A national project that is the result of a common desire freely chosen by the nations and the peoples of this peninsula, in the form of a Federal Iberian Republic which, through its population and sovereign direction, will be able to begin the voyage towards an authentic Social State.
Despite the difficulties the first step is to recover, for the culture of the left, the words they are robbing from us. This theft is, at root, the robbery of ideas and the denial of a future. In the same way as Rule of Law, Constitution or Nation State, they are ideas that we must make ours once again.
If we do not think them and put them together beforehand, we will never build them.

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Boaventura de Sousa Santos – Fourth Letter To The Lefts

Originally published in Carta Maior on the 11th of January. Translated with reference to Spanish translation by Antoni Jesús Aguiló and Àlex Tarradellas here. There is an additional sentence in the Spanish version that does not appear in the original Portuguese. I have marked its position with an asterisk in the text below and included it at the end.

Fourth Letter To The Lefts

The historical divisions among the lefts were justified through an imposing ideological construct, but in reality their practical sustainability (the credibility of political proposals that allowed them to win followers) was based on three factors: colonialism, which allowed the displacement of primitive accumulation of capital (by violent dispossession, illegal in general and always unpunished, with untold human sacrifice) beyond the central capitalist countries, where the social struggles considered decisive were waged; the emergence of national capitalisms with characteristics so diverse (State capitalism, corporatist, liberal, social democratic) that they lent plausibility to the idea that there would be various alternatives for overcoming capitalism; and lastly, the transformations that social struggles went about producing under liberal democracy, allowing a certain social redistribution, and separating, to a degree, the market of commodities (those values that have a price and are bought and sold) from the market of convictions (those political values and choices which, since they have no price, are neither bought nor sold). If for some lefts this separation was a new event, for others it was a dangerous deception.

Recent years have seen these factors change so profoundly that nothing will be the same for the lefts as we know them. With regard to colonialism, there are two types of radical change. On one hand, the accumulation of capital via violent dispossession has returned to the former metropoles (the robbing of wages and pensions, illegal transfers of collective funds to rescue private banks; complete impunity of financial gangsterism) such that a struggle of an anti-colonial type will also have to take place now in the metropoles, a struggle that, as we know,  has never been governed by parliamentary courtesies. On the other hand, in spite of the fact that neocolonialism (the maintenance of colonial relations between the old colonies and metropoles or their replacements, as in the case of the United States) has until now allowed the continuation of accumulation by dispossession of the old colonial world, part of it is now taking on a new protagonism (India, Brazil, South Africa and the special case of China, which was humiliated by Western imperialism in the 19th Century) and to such a degree that we do not know if there will be new metropoles and, and therefore, new colonies.*

As for national capitalisms, they seem destined to meet their end in the shredder of neoliberalism. It is true that in Latin America and China it seems that new versions of capitalist domination are emerging, but intriguingly they appear to take advantage of the opportunities offered to them by neoliberalism. However, 2011 has shown that the left and neoliberalism are incompatible. One only has to see how stock markets go up just as social inequality increases and social protection is destroyed. How long will it take for the lefts to draw conclusions?

Finally, liberal democracy is dying under the weight of de facto powers (mafias, masons, Opus Dei, transnational corporations, the IMF, the World Bank), impunity for corruption, abuse of power and influence peddling. The result is a growing fusion between the political market of ideas and the economic market of interests. Everything is up for sale and nothing is sold because there is no-one to buy it. In the last 50 years the lefts (all of them) have made a fundamental contribution to liberal democracy achieving a certain credibility among popular classes, and to social conflicts getting resolved peacefully. Since the right wing is only interested in democracy in so far as it serves its interests, the lefts today are the guarantee of its rescue. Are they up to the task? Will they have the courage to re-found democracy beyond liberalism? Will they stand up for a solid democracy against anti-democracy, combining representative democracy with participative democracy and direct democracy? Will they advocate an anti-capitalist democracy in the face of a capitalism becoming ever more anti-democratic?

 

The omitted sentence: *The lefts of the global North (and, save certain exceptions, those of Latin America) started off as colonialists and later on accepted uncritically that the independence of the colonies eliminated colonialism, thereby undervaluing the emergence of neocolonialism and internal colonialism. Will they be able to imagine themselves as lefts when confronted with new colonialisms and prepare for anti-colonial struggles of a new type?

 

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Castells on 15-M: ‘the alternative to this peaceful protest is a violent and destructive explosion’

Translation of an article by Manuel Castells, originally published in La Vanguardia, 21st January 2012.

Where are the ‘indignados’ going?

The indignados movement that burst forth in 2011 in Spain, Europe and the United States is a breath of fresh air in a world that smells rotten. They set out in social networks and in acampadas what many people think: that it was banks and governments who created the crisis and it is the people who suffer as a result, that politicians only represent themselves, that the mass media represent vested interests and that there are no channels for social protest to translate into real changes because in politics everything is nailed down securely so that those who always pay keep on paying, and those who reap the rewards do the same. This is why for months tens of thousands of people participated in assemblies and demonstrations and this is why the majority of the citizens (up to 73% in Spain) shared their criticisms. And all this in a peaceful way, except the violence that resulted from wild police baton charges, which have led to those responsible being brought before the courts. The movement had the maturity to lift the acampadas when it sensed that the occupations were stewing in their own juices and the daily assemblies where only getting attended by activists. 

But the movement did not disappear; rather it spread out into the social fabric, with neighbourhood assemblies, defensive actions against injustices, such as opposition to evictions of families, and the spreading of alternative economic practices such as consumer co-operatives, ethical banking, exchange networks and many other such forms of living differently so as to live with meaning.

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Even so, the media, police and political harassment suffered by the movement, which at one state managed to frighten ruling elites because of its possibility of contagion, has managed to create the impression that the movement has remained confined to a few young idealists or a few hotheads. Best to close ranks and wait until they get tired. The left parties thought about fishing in troubled waters in order to replenish their dwindling stocks, but they gave up when they saw that the new rebels already have it clear in their minds that the change they are struggling for does not lie in that direction. Despite the hostility of the powers that be, the movement has continued, it has maintained its deliberation in assemblies, commissions and over the internet, and it still enjoys popular support whenever concrete initiatives arise where the groundwork of those who do not resign themselves to everything staying the same comes to the surface.

Even so, the determination to create new forms of transformative action without formal leadership and without bureaucratic organisations brings with it considerable difficulties for the development of the movement. In one sense, it did not make sense to reach this point in order to go back to reproducing a model of activism that has already failed repeatedly. In another, what is essential is a link, between the deliberation and action within the movement and the connection to the 99% that the movement seeks to represent. Seeking out new paths, there is a deep debate in the 15-M about how to simultaneously maintain action and the creation of new forms of organisation and the elaboration of the strategy of the movement itself. On December 19th past, after an assembly discussion, the Madrid Puerta del Sol Commission for International Outreach decided to suspend its activity and declared itself on indefinite active reflection. “The public space we had rediscovered has been replaced once again by a sum of private spaces…The success of the movement depends on us being the 99% once again. Although we do not have the answer to what has to come next, what shape the restart we need can take, we understand that the first step for escaping from the wrong dynamic is to break with it: to stop, hold back, and get perspective”, went the argument.

Although this attitude does not necessarily reflect how other assemblies and commissions of 15-M might feel, it is significant because it gives evidence of the capacity for auto-critique and self-reflexiveness that characterises this movement. It is only in this way that one might build a new process of change that does not cast aside its goals of real democracy in the forms of its existence. Because where one ends up depends on the methods used to get there, whatever the intentions might be. If the question is how to connect with the 99%, how does that connection operate? What is essential in every social movement is people’s mental transformation. Being able to imagine other ways of life, breaking with the subordination to media manipulation, the feeling that many others think the same way you do, and the losing the fear in setting out one’s rights and one’s opinions. In this sense, there are multiple indications that people are changing, that the 15-M made the outrage visible and fed hope, and although there might be less participation in the activist assemblies, many people within their sphere are occupying their everyday space and trying to seek out links with other similar experiences. It is clear to them that change does not come via elections such as these. The triumph of the PP, magnified by an electoral law that is not representative of the vote, was nothing of the sort (400,000 votes more than in 2008) but a debacle for the socialists which exemplifies how weary people are with the supposed representatives of the interests of the people below. And it is also clear to them that the crisis is getting worse and no-one knows how to handle it. Faced with this, people are looking for their own solutions. By relying on networks of solidarity that are ever more numerous. And supporting protest actions wherever these might arise. This mental transformation and these multiple everyday changes can be activated on far wider levels, in ways that are yet to be discovered, as normality breaks down. It is not a matter of the old communist myth of the sudden collapse of capitalism, but rather of knowing that the European economy is sinking into recession, that the social safety net is shrinking, that politicians are digging in and that the citizens are still outraged and they are ever more conscious.

The 15-M exists in that consciousness. And like water, it will go about finding its own paths until it becomes a torrent as the situation becomes critical. Fortunately so, because the alternative to this peaceful protest is a violent and destructive explosion.

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Manifesto against the Plundering of the Commons


From Evernote:

Manifesto against the Plundering of the Commons

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Reading this piece by Conor McCabe on Dublin Opinion about the number of vacant housing units in the republic of Ireland by comparison with the actual social need, I remembered I had a piece of translation I had not got round to finishing. It’s from Madrilonia back in November, which I’ve only got round to finishing now.

Titled ‘Manifesto against the Plundering of the Commons’ it is a manifesto that arose from a series of sessions –Workshops against the Plundering of the Commons: City, Territory and Capitalism held in Madrid among various social movements from the 10th through the 12th November.

The content of the manifesto relates closely to the ideas set forth in a book, available for download, by one of the participating groups: the Observatorio Metropolitano de Madrid (Madrid Metropolitan Observatory). The book, which is very interesting, is titled La Carta de los Comunes: The Charter of the Commons, which is available for download here. It’s in Spanish and is 57 pages long. I would recommend a donation to the publishing house (the books are available for free) if you have the money. Obviously if you don’t read Spanish you might run into difficulties. With this in mind I might translate some of it on this site.

Note: I have translated bienes comunes as ‘commons’ (as in, enclosure of..); however this translates literally as ‘common goods’.

Manifesto against the Plundering of the Commons

Spain has been the theatre of a prolonged speculative wave that ended abruptly in 2007, having been one of the world leaders in the cycle of real estate-financial accumulation. Spanish capitalism took advantage of an intensive use of the territory that guaranteed strong profit rates, with the support of large masses of capital acquired on  global financial markets. The characteristics of this model are well known: unprecedented volumes of house building and transport infrastructures, a proliferation of rapturous macroevents and megaprojects and levels of real estate revaluation that seemed to distribute wealth to anyone who was the owner of a house, or at least, "owner" of debt.

Underneath this financial-real estate mirage, a process of plundering of the commons was always at work, bringing about a very heavy concentration of social wealth in the hands of a few. This process can be traced in the commodification of fundamental goods such as housing, the irrational consumption of non-renewable resources, the irreparable damage to areas of highly ecological value, or to people’s health.

Now, once the expansive phase has closed, we find ourselves, moreover, with a landscape of fantasmagorical settings, full of empty motorways, ports and airports, of unoccupied buildings that coexist with the increase in evictions. In parallel, the levels of family indebtedness, in a context of intensification of unemployment and precariousness, are strangling households.

One cannot understand the irrationality and the flagrant short-termism of the previous cycle without singling out those who have been, and still are, the beneficiaries of this model. The real-estate cycle and its decline has been controlled and promoted by oligarchies encrusted in institutions at the level of state, autonomous region and local authority, which have designed a government regime that is monolithically favourable to their interests, which they share with the neoliberal European project. When real estate-financial profit ceased to flow, these oligarchies have unloaded the costs of the crisis onto the rest of society, and, especially, onto the most precarious sectors, through privatisations and cutbacks that affect basic services, in connivance with the Europe of the marketeers. Also we should not forget about the responsibility of citizens who have contributed, on a different scale, to strengthening this circle.

Against the financial-real estate nihilism that the main political parties cling to, and the silence of the academic world, we want to open a path towards a transformation of the economic model, starting with recovering the right to the city and resolving the main problems outstanding. To do so we propose:

  • To make an inventory and audit of the surfeit of assets in land, infrastructures, buildings and housing in order to take democratic charge of its uses.
  • To make an inventory and audit of debts, public and private, to determine responsibilities for them, their legitimacy, and to establish  conditions regarding whether or not they should go unpaid.
  • To strengthen networks of knowledge co-operation and co-ordinated actions, in light of the imposed model of inter-territorial competition.
  • To institute the "statute of the commons" for a collective and democratic management that guarantees the inalienability of the goods necessary for living.

 

 

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Jacques Rancière Interview: “Democracy is not, to begin with, a form of State”

This is a translation of an interview with Jacques Rancière published in last Sunday’s Público. I have translated it from Spanish, which in turn was translated by the newspaper from French. 

I doubt the double translation makes a great deal of difference but thought I’d mention it nonetheless. I can’t remember if statal is a word in English but I’m to tired to check so let’s assume it is.

 I didn’t think Hatred of Democracy had made that much of an impression on me when I read it, in fact I’d sort of forgotten about it, but translating this interview I began to realise, given all the things that I naturally agreed with here, that in fact it made a pretty big impression.

Are we living a “political moment” in Europe? How would you describe this moment?

“In Europe, all the governments are applying the same programme of destruction of what is public.”

I would prefer to say that the conditions are being laid down for a moment in so far as we find ourselves in a situation in which it becomes more evident every day that national states only act as intermediaries to impose on the people’s the wills of an inter-statal power, which is in turn closely dependent on the financial powers. Almost everywhere in Europe, governments, of the left as well as the right, apply the same programme of systematic destruction of public services and all forms of solidarity and social protection that guaranteed a minimum of equality in the social fabric.  Almost everywhere, then, the brutal opposition is revealed between a small oligarchy of financiers and politicians, and the mass of the people subjected to a systematic precarity and dispossessed of its decison-making power, as has been put on display spectacularly in the matter of the referendum planned and immediately cancelled in Greece. Therefore there arise, it is true, conditions for a political moment, that is, for a scenario of a demonstration of the people against the apparatuses of domination. But for such a moment to come into existence, it is not enough for the circumstances to be there: it is also necessary that these be recognised by forces likely to turn this into a demonstration, once intellectual and material, and to turn this demonstration into a lever that is capable of modifying the balance of forces by modifying the very landscape of what is perceivable and what is thinkable.  

What do you think of the Spanish case in particular?

Europe throws up very different situations. Spain is definitely the country where the first condition has been fulfilled in the most obvious way: the 15-M movement has thrown into sharp relief the distance between a real power of the people and a set of institutions that are called democratic but in fact are completely under the control of the international financial oligarchy. The second condition is yet to arise: the capacity to transform a protest movement into an autonomous force not only independent of the statal and representative system, but at the same time able to drag that system under the direction of public life. In most European countries we are still far off the first condition.

 

“For a rebirth of politics collective organisations with their objectives and their media are needed.”

Are the 15-M and Occupy Wall Street movements politics?

These movements respond undoubtedly to the most fundamental idea of politics: that of the power possessed by those to whom no particular motive determines that they should exercise power, that of the manifestation of an ability which is that of any one. And they have materialsed this power in a way that also conforms to this fundamental idea: by affirming this power of the people through a subversion of the normal distribution of spaces: normally there exist spaces, such as the street, destined for the circulation of individuals and goods, and public spaces, such as parliaments or ministries, destined for public life and the treatment of common affairs. Politics is always manifested through a distortion of this logic. 

What should we do with the present political parties?

“The demonstrators today possess no horizon that gives validity to their battle. They are outraged.”

The political parties we know today are simply apparatuses intended for taking power. A rebirth of politics involves the existence of collective organisations that subtract themselves from this logic, that define their objectives and their own means of action, independently of statal agendas. Independently does not mean by losing interest in or acting as if these agendas did not exist. It means building one’s own dynamic, spaces of discussion and ways of circulating information, motives and ways of action directed, first of all, towards the development of an autonomous power to think and act. 

In May 68, people discussed the ideas of Marx.., but there does not seem to be any philosopher in the 15-M or OWS

As far as I know, both take an interest in philosophy. And we must remember the recommendation that the occupies of the Sorbonne in May of 68 gave to the philosopher who had turned up to support their cause: “Sartre, be brief.” 

 

When a collective intelligence affirms itself in the movement it is the moment of doing away with philosophical providers of explanations or slogans. It is not, in fact a matter of presences or absences of philosophers. It is a question of the existence or the inexistence of a vision of the world that naturally structures collective action. In May 68, although the form of the movement was far from the canons of Marxist politics, the Marxist explanation of the world functioned as the horizon of the movement: despite not being Marxists, the militants of May situated their action in the frame of a vision of history in which the capitalist system was bound to disappear under the blows struck by a movement led by its enemy, the organised working class. The demonstrators today no longer have a floor nor a horizon that gives historical validity to their battle. They are, firstly, outraged, people who reject the existing order without being able to consider themselves agents in a historical process. And this is what certain people take advantage of in order to denounce, in a self-serving way, their idealism or their moralism.

 

“Democracy is not a form of State. It is a power of the people, always in tension with the State”

You have written that during the last 30 years we have lived through a counter-revolution. Has this situation changed with these popular movements? 

Certainly, something has changed since the Arab Spring and the movements of the indignados. There has been an interruption of the logic of resignation before the historical necessity advocated by our governments and sustained by intellectual opinion.  Since the collapse of the soviet system, intellectual discourse contributed to back up the efforts of the financial and state powers to blow up the collective structures of resistance to the power of the market. This discourse had ended up imposing the idea that revolt was not only useless, but also harmful. Whatever the future might hold for them, the recent movements will have, at the least, put that supposed historical fatality into question. They will have served a reminder that we do not have to see things in terms of a crisis of our societies, but an extreme moment in an offensive intended to impose everywhere the most brutal forms of exploitation; and that it is possible that those who are the 99% make their voice heard when confronted with this offensive. 

What can we do to recover democratic values?

“The power of the citizens is the power to act for themselves, to have autonomous force”

To start off we would have to be agreed on what we call democracy. In Europe we have got used to identifying democracy with the double system of representative institutions and those of the free market. Today this idyll is a thing of the past: the free market can be seen increasingly as a force of constriction that transforms representative institutions into simple agents of its will and reduces the freedom of choice of citizens to variations of the same fundamental logic. In this situation, either we denounce the very idea of democracy as an illusion, or we rethink completely what democracy, in the strong sense of the word, means. Democracy is not, to begin with, a form of State. It is, in the first place, the reality of the power of the people that can never coincide with the form of a State. There will always be tension between democracy as the exercise of a shared power of thinking and acting, and the State, whose very principle is to appropriate this power. Obviously states justify this appropriation by citing the complexity of the prolems, the need to the long term, etc. But in truth, politicians are a lot more subjected to the present. To recover the values of democracy is, in first place, to reaffirm the existence of a capacity to judge and decide, which is that of everyone, against this monopolisation. It is also to reaffirm the necessity that this capacity be exercised through its own institutions, different from those of the State. The first democratic virtue is the virtue of confidence in the capacity of anyone.

In the prologue to your book you criticise politicians and intellectuals, but, what is the responsibility of the citizens in the current situation and in the economic crisis?

To characterise the phenomena of our times we must, first of all, call into question the concept of crisis. One speaks of a crisis of society, a crisis of democracy, and so on. It is a way of blaming the current situation on the victims. Now, this situation is not the result of a sickness of civilisation but of the violence with which the masters of the world direct their offensive against the peoples. The great fault of the citizens continues to be that of always: that of allowing oneself to be dispossessed of one’s power. Now, power of th citizens is, above all, the power for them to act for themselves, to constitute themselves into an autonomous force. Citizenship is not a prerogative linked to the fact of being registered as an inhabitant and voter in a countryl it is, above all, an exercise that cannot be delegated.  As such, it is necessary to oppose clearly this exercise of citizen action against the moralising discourses that can be heard nearly everywhere about the responsibility of the citizens in the crisis of democracy: these discourses deplore the lack of interest by citizens in public life and they blame it on the individualist drift of consumer individuals. These supposed calls for citizen responsibility  only have, in fact, one effect: to blame the citizens in order to capture them more easily within the institutional game that only consists of selecting, between members of the ruling class, those they would prefer to allow ro dispossess them of their power to act. 

“There is no particular role to be assigned today to culture as a global entity”

You are also a devotee of cinema and literature. What are the consequences of this crisis for culture? 

The current situationis a crisis of common values where the power of capital over society manifests itself in consumerist individualism. In this frame, culture is presented both as the threatened fabric of common edperience, invaded by mercantile values, and as the instance charged with providing a remedy for the effects of this invasion, by placing demands for autonomy for art in opposition to commercial aesthetics or by re-knitting the bedraggled networks of the social bond. From my point of view, capitalist power is exercised firstly from the top down, through statal policies which, with the pretext of fighting against the selfishness of privileged workers and individualist democrats, imposes, in the name of the crisis, a programme of subordination of all aspects of life in common to the laws of the market. The result is that there is no particular role to be attributed to culture as a global entity. And what dominates today on the scene are, to a larger extent, official cultural celebrations, and intellectual discourses which are supposedly critical but are really subordinated to official logic. 

 

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The Nation’s Health

It’s a commonplace among reactionaries and conservatives of different stripes to make the claim that we live in a ‘sick’ society.

It also happens, in the case of the Republic of Ireland, to be objectively true, within the framework imposed by the EU-IMF troika.

Eu-imf-press-conference-jan-2012

Maybe you’re aware of the medico-biological language that justifies a lot of economic policies: ‘we don’t want to kill the patient’; ‘we need to front-load the treatment’; the ‘lifeblood’ of economic activity, and so on and so forth.

If your physician told you, sternly looking up at your x-ray, that there appeared to be a liquidity trap appearing on your lung, you might get worried. But the language of medicine is habitually deployed in economic policy discourse as a means of lending both an air of scientificity and an air of moral righteousness to the endeavours of the economist.

Bacon

I am not a moralist, Peter Bacon the conceptual artist behind NAMA once claimed on RTE TV. But economic decisions have moral consequences.

Well, they do, that is, when, as a human being possessed of powers of empathy and compassion, you are able to perceive them.

Psychopaths and automatons are not able to evaluate moral consequences, or even perceive them as such. But psychopaths may use moral language as a manipulative strategy. And automatons may use it because they have no powers of questioning one way or the other. They just do it because that is what they do.

Are the bureaucrats and banking lobby servants that comprise the EU-IMF troika psychopaths or automatons? Or are they just sick? Consider the following paragraph:

Programme implementation remains strong.  The front-loaded fiscal consolidation is on track, with the 2011 deficit significantly below the programme targets. The Irish authorities have continued to advance wide-ranging reforms to restore the health of the financial system so it can support Ireland’s recovery. Reforms to enhance competitiveness and support growth and job creation are moving forward.

In other words, we have made cuts to the health system. At the same time we have ploughed massive sums of public money into the financial system. People will be killed so that the financial system will prosper.

Or, people of Ireland must be killed so Ireland can recover, because Ireland is sick.

Or, people of Ireland are parasites on Ireland.

Or, Ireland is its banks.

I came across a short piece from Juan Carlos Monedero the other day where he used the word ‘asesinato’ (murder) in a way that was initially jarring to me because we tend to think of murder in terms of an established legal framework.

But what if that legal framework is the primary instrument used to kill people deliberately? Is that not murder too?

And can you not murder –and be an accessory to murder- with words too? By slashing people’s lives to bits whilst hiding behind a figurative surgeon’s mask and talking about State police forces, prisons and bureaucracies of harassment –the main tools for implementing your desired course of action- as though they were your trusty scalpel for healing?

The other day I read a report on health service cuts in the Irish Times. It started like this.

UP TO 600 public nursing home beds are to close, more acute hospital beds will shut and there will be cuts to community, mental health and disability services under the Health Service Executive’s service plan for the year, which was published yesterday.

The headline above read:

HSE admits €750m in cuts will hit services

It’s not the frail elderly residents of public nursing homes in need of care that will be hit; it’s the service. It is not people with mental health problems who will be it; it’s the service. It’s not people with disabilities that will be hit; it’s their service. (Though if nurses called a stoppage, you can be damn sure the newspaper would report that the patients had been hit)

The people will escape intact.

Until the troika says we have to kill them.

For Ireland.

Sláinte.

Here is a translation:

Mathematics of rage

And one of these days we are going to add the murders of people who die 15 years before their time because during their lives they had neither stable job nor social security nor decent housing; and we are going to add the murders of people who end it all by their own hand because the banks tell them that they are economically unviable and the social services have been dismantled in order to keep enriching insatiable banks; and we are going to add the living deaths of people whose hopes have been stolen from them because they have not been allowed to study or make plans for their future; and we are going to add the murders of children who have not been able to develop because there was not enough food in the home to foster their dreams and feed their games; and we are going to add the murders of people who have died in dead end jobs, with no job security,  ordered around by avaricious bosses or crazed managers; and we are going to add the murders of women who have lost their lives because the system did not allow them space to be anything but submissive, prostitutes or weak and could find no eyes to rely on when they were falling, and we are going to add the murders of people who could not breathe the dirty air of our cities, drink the contaminated water of so many places, eat the scarce and rotten food left behind by market traders; and we are going to add the murders of people killed by bullets, missiles, bombs and gases sold by arms traffickers and war profiteers. Then, with so many deaths on our conscience, our mouths will be filled with hatred, and our lungs with earth and our hands with justice, and we are going to get even more angry when they say to us that we are the ones sowing class struggle. And then they will find neither forest nor sea deep enough nor mountains high enough to hide themselves away and escape from so much rage that they have made us build up and so much humanity they have robbed from us.

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